Section 17: Bouncing Back

Where else can you find Dell Curry, Doc Rivers, Bill Cowher, Crazy Towel Guy, and Santa Claus all in the same place but at Cameron Indoor Stadium? For a non-conference game against a mediocre Colorado State team during the height of finals season, there were a fair share of celebrities in attendance. After last week’s loss, Duke needed to respond, and respond they did. The Blue Devils returned home to Cameron for the first time in almost three weeks and trounced the Rams 87-64. As examined in yesterday’s column, Coach Krzyzewski responded to last week’s blowout loss by making a lineup change, inserting Tyler Thornton into the starting lineup to replace struggling junior Andre Dawkins. Not only did this illicit a response from the team, but no one responded by stepping their game up more than Dawkins himself.

Andre Dawkins was impressive against Colorado State, netting 15 points in just 12 minutes of action (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Dawkins looked unstoppable on the floor, knocking down 6-of-8 shots for 15 points in just 12 minutes before taking a hard fall near the end of the first half and sitting out the second half with back spasms. But for the time he was on the floor, Dawkins looked unstoppable, drilling threes with reckless abandon and capping off fast breaks with huge dunks. I think the role of coming off the bench suits him more because he has often struggled to create his own shots. Being this team’s sixth man will alleviate much of that pressure. Dawkins has been so streaky throughout the year that it seems as though you can tell whether or not he’ll be a factor in the game after his first five minutes on the floor. You could tell being knocked out of the starting lineup gave him a little extra spark, and his energy was electrifying in the short time he was on the floor.

Seth Curry struggled shooting from the floor against Ohio State, and he was the only Duke player who genuinely struggled shooting the ball against Colorado State. But unlike in the Ohio State matchup, Curry was able to make himself useful on the floor even though he wasn’t knocking down shots. Curry is starting to look more and more comfortable distributing the ball as he notched eight assists on Wednesday night, the highest single-game assist total by any Blue Devil this season.

Miles Plumlee was a force on the inside, scoring a season-high 14 points (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

After last week’s debacle in Columbus, you can be assured Duke focused on controlling the paint at practice this week, and that is exactly what they did. Miles and Mason Plumlee each turned in one of their best performances of the season. For Mason it seemed a bit more business-as-usual, contributing 14 points on 6-for-7 from the floor to go along with 10 rebounds. He really took advantage of the undersized Rams on the defensive end, amassing five blocks and four steals on the contest as well. Mason also had one of the highlights of the game when he soared down the lane to throw down a monstrous dunk over a Colorado State defender in the game’s opening minutes. Miles got himself a bit more involved on the offensive end than we’re accustomed to seeing, adding a season-high 14 points of his own with five rebounds and three blocks. Both Plumlees showed off an array of post moves and showed no fear on the defensive end.

Austin Rivers made three shots from beyond the arc en route to 17 points on the night (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Austin Rivers’ 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting doesn’t look like anything spectacular on the outside, but it made me really excited on the walk home from Cameron. This was the first game, in my opinion, where Rivers never stuck out on the offensive end of the floor. He didn’t force shots, he didn’t turn the ball over, and he blended in perfectly. He is truly beginning to fit into this system. Sometimes with great players it’s not what you see, but rather what you don’t see. To be able to practically forget about Rivers and watch him rack up those kind of numbers is exactly what shows how scary good this guy is.

Josh Hairston only contributed four points and three rebounds in his 14 minutes of play. This wasn’t his best game of the year, as he was certainly exploited on defense (something that rarely happens) on more than one occasion. However, I do believe this dunk, which was only good for #5 on DukeBluePlanet’s top plays from the contest, speaks for itself.

Although Coach K’s most noticeable adjustment might have been the insertion of Thornton into the starting five, I believe the most important change might have been Krzyzewski’s utilization of a deeper bench. Coach K has typically stuck to an eight man rotation throughout the year, but last night’s game featured 10 Blue Devils all playing double-digit minutes, with only freshman Michael Gbinije’s minutes coming in garbage time. Duke used this game as an opportunity to try a bunch of different sets, and was not afraid to sub three or four players out at a time, even early in the game. This deeper bench shows that Krzyzewski is becoming more confident in his younger players to take on more significant roles, something that will be crucial with ACC season quickly approaching.

All in all it was just what we expected. Duke shot the ball incredibly well and was able to dominate a physically inferior Colorado State team on the inside. They adjusted their rotation and were able to respond from a tough loss with a convincing win, and there were definitely some promising performances from role players that will hopefully be replicated in the near future. However, we need to keep in mind who we were dealing with. Colorado State is a .500 team that has lost to the likes of Stanford, Southern Missouri, and Northern Iowa, none of whom you’ll see come close to cutting down the nets in March. Our next matchup against a Washington who pushed #11 Marquette to their limit at Madison Square Garden will tell us a lot more about the direction in which this team is going. Hopefully our newfound momentum carries through. Until then, stay Crazie, my friends.

Looking Back To Move Forward

Good teams win games, but great teams can bounce back from a tough loss, and I’ll speak for the entire Crazies community by saying we can file last week’s game in Columbus under the “tough loss” category. Taking 20-point defeats is not something that the Duke Blue Devils are used to, but luckily for us, Colorado State is coming to town tonight.

We can take away many negatives and a few positives away from the Ohio State game, some of which I discussed in my post yesterday. But there is one thing I’m sure we can all agree on—in order to get back to form and elevate itself to the next level, this Duke team needs a change. Luckily for us, the guy calling the shots for this team knows just a few things about basketball. Although he has not found himself in this situation many times throughout his illustrious career, Coach K has a knack for responding to a blowout loss with an adjustment that alters the identity of the team, and when Coach K responds, the team responds as well. Let’s take a look back to some similar situations Duke teams have found itself in over the last few years to examine the adjustments we might see tonight against Colorado State.

Nolan Smith shot 1-for-7 against Clemson and was subsequently pulled from the starting lineup (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The Game: February 4, 2009—Clemson 74, Duke 47
What Went Wrong: In a word…everything. Duke couldn’t throw a shot into the ocean during this game, shooting a miserable 30.8% from the field. Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Jon Scheyer, who would eventually lead the Blue Devils to a national championship the next season, shot a combined 4-23. Meanwhile, Duke had no answer for Clemson’s Trevor Booker, who shot 8-for-10 from the floor en route to 21 points and eight rebounds.
How Coach K Adjusted: Finding themselves in a similar situation as this year’s Blue Devils, with no true point guard to speak of, Greg Paulus assumed the role in Duke’s next game, starting in favor of Nolan Smith. Krzyzewski also used a significantly smaller rotation in this game, with only six Blue Devils playing more than 7 minutes in the contest.
The Result: Despite going in down 32-19 at the half, Duke came back to win an overtime thriller at Cameron by a score of 78-75. Miami’s Jack McClinton scored a game-high 34 points in a herculean effort, while Paulus added 18 points in his first game at point guard. Duke’s shooting woes continued, however, as Kyle Singler scored 17 points but at the expense of a 5-for-23 shooting effort. Overall, Duke would go on to lose its next two games following Miami, but was able to finish 8-1 down the stretch en route to an ACC Tournament championship. The team would fall earn a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and fall in the Sweet 16 to #3 seed Villanova.

Kyle Singler's 18 points were not enough against the Hoyas (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The Game: January 30, 2010—Georgetown 89, Duke 77
What Went Wrong: Georgetown shot an obscene 71.7% from the field as Lance Thomas and Miles Plumlee’s shoddy interior defense allowed the Hoyas’ Greg Monroe, Chris Wright, and Austin Freeman to attack the rim and score at will. Duke once again relied too heavily on its outside shooting and was only able to muster 9-of-29 from three-point land. President Obama watched on at the Verizon Center as Georgetown pushed its lead to 23 late in the second half, before a mini Duke run allowed the final score to look slightly more respectable.
How Coach K Adjusted: Brian Zoubek, who played only two minutes against Georgetown, saw his playing time increase to 13 minutes in Duke’s next contest, an 86-67 victory over a ranked Georgia Tech squad. Zoubek continued to put in quality minutes in the team’s ensuing games and replaced Miles Plumlee in the starting lineup three games later, when he played the best game of his Duke career with 16 points and 17 rebounds in a 77-56 rout of Maryland.
The Result: We all know how this story ended, as Zoubek started for the rest of the season, playing a crucial role as Duke went on to win 18 of its final 19 games en route to its fourth national championship.

St. Johns had its way with the Blue Devils, but Duke got the last laugh come March (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The Game: January 30, 2011—St. John’s 93, Duke 78
What Went Wrong: Playing at Madison Square Garden, the Red Storm certainly had a home court advantage and didn’t waste any time, jumping on the Blue Devils early and often. As the lead ballooned to 21 points at the half, the Johnnies continued to coast, not allowing Duke to cut the lead to less than 13 for the rest of the game. The Blue Devils were too reliant on their three-point shooting early in the game, and fell behind as the shots were not falling. Faced with a large deficit, Duke had to rely on long range shooting in the second half in hopes of a comeback, but its struggles continued from beyond the arc, knocking down just 5-of-26 three-point attempts on the afternoon.
How Coach K Adjusted: Tyler Thornton replaced Seth Curry in Duke’s next game at Maryland as the Blue Devils sought to shift their focus from three-point shooting to defense and efficiency in their half-court sets.
The Result: Duke held firm control over an inexperienced Maryland team throughout the contest, coasting to an 80-62 win. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith led the team with 22 and 21 points, respectively, while Mason Plumlee added an impressive 12 points and 11 rebounds on 6-of-7 shooting. Duke would go on to post an 11-2 record to close out the season with yet another ACC Tournament title before falling in the Sweet 16 to Arizona.

And here we are. Following a performance in Columbus that couldn’t even qualify as subpar, Duke faces yet another critical juncture in its season. If there is any time for new life to be breathed into this Blue Devils team, it is now. Despite minor tests against Temple, Florida State, and upstart Virginia over the ensuing weeks, Duke certainly won’t be considered an underdog in any game it plays before its February 8th matchup with “the-team-who-must-not-be-named” in Chapel Hill. Although following last week’s beatdown at the hands of the Buckeyes this year’s matchup at Carolina looks especially daunting, if this team can make the necessary adjustments and hit its stride, we could be looking at one of the games of the year in college basketball.

Michael Gbinije saw increased playing time against Ohio State, scoring these two points on a fast break (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The only question now is, what will be Krzyzewski’s adjustment this time around? It almost certainly will include some sort of a change in tomorrow night’s starting lineup, though it is not particularly clear as to who will be inserted. The most likely to be pulled from the starting lineup following last week’s debacle appear to be Ryan Kelly and Andre Dawkins, both of whom played quite poorly and sat nearly the entire second half. Although Kelly has not always been reliable defensively (which is where Duke clearly got burned against Ohio State), I think the clear choice is to pull Dawkins. If you’ve been keeping up with our statistical analyses using advanced metrics, you’ll see that despite his weak showing last week, Kelly has been the most consistent offensive weapon on this year’s Duke team. Who is inserted into the starting lineup is a bit more up in the air, however. What Duke is lacking right now is the presence of a big wing player who can defend on the perimeter. As of now the only person on the roster that fits that role is Michael Gbinije, who saw more minutes against Ohio State than he had all year and put forth a decent effort. But I still question whether at this point in the year Gbinije is ready to take on a starting role, so I would say the more likely option is to see Quinn Cook or Tyler Thornton tomorrow night. Putting a true point guard out there will provide more stability on offense, and Thornton’s defense would surely be appreciated to make sure nobody can ever replicate Aaron Craft’s performance from last week again. If I were a betting man, I would say Thornton starts in place of Dawkins, but I would not be surprised to see any of these three in the starting lineup tonight.

Luckily for the Blue Devils, Colorado State does not pose a particularly tough test, so it should have plenty of opportunities to try different combinations of players and work to improve on some of the weaknesses from last week. Let’s hope history repeats itself and the adjustments pay off. Stay Crazie, my friends.

Rewriting History

With a win over upstart Butler in last Monday’s championship game, Mike Krzyzewski cemented his legacy as one of basketball’s greatest coaches. During his first 29 years at Duke, Coach K joined the elite ranks of his mentor—Bobby Knight—and his old nemesis—Dean Smith—as a coach with at least two national titles and 800-plus victories.

But when Gordon Hayward’s desperation heave bounced off the front of the rim at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, Coach K rose to another plateau of coaching. He became a legend.

The Architect joins Nolan and Jon in the aftermath of victory. (Courtesy of

The victory on Monday marked Coach K’s fourth championship, tying him with Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp for second most all time behind the Wizard of Westwood’s 10 titles at UCLA. Arguably, Coach K’s latest ring might be more impressive than those of Rupp or Wooden (although Kentucky and UCLA fans will almost certainly disagree. But who cares about Kentucky?) One could argue that Rupp and Wooden won their in a different era of college basketball, one without the present physical play and brutal postseason tournament (that is set to become even longer). Coach K’s accomplishments in the modern era testify to the will, intensity and consistency of play he instills in his teams. Duke teams under Mike Krzyzewski have only had 3 losing seasons in 30 years—two of which came during Duke’s early 1980s rebuilding effort (the other I blame on Pete Gaudet. Sorry, Pete).

This season, Coach K also negated another criticism by proving that Duke can win without loads of NBA-ready talent. Not a single member of the 2010 championship squad was voted a First-Team All-American. No one on this squad is a projected NBA lottery pick (yet). There was no unstoppable “Duke villain” a la Christian Laettner, J.J. Redick, or Shane Battier (that’s subjective, of course. Maryland fans hate everything, but mostly Scheyer). Instead, what Coach K had was a team of hardened veterans, bonded by the millstone of the previous three years. Many of these burdens, we must say, came from Duke’s sometimes spoiled fanbase that assumes “D-U-K-E” spells unequivocal success.

Coach K knows better. He told his players to shut their minds to comparisons to past Duke teams—and to their own past pitfalls. He told them to focus on the present task at hand. In his words: “be in the moment.”

There’s a reason why the Fuqua Business School shares a name with Krzyzewski, his books sell millions of copies and global companies invite him to speak at major events. The man is a master motivator, and the 09-10 Devils bought into his message. Be yourselves. Work hard. And go out there and win.

Coach K speaks to the press at the Final Four for the 11th time. (courtesy of

By following the words of their leader, this Duke team achieved greatness. One by one, the 2010 senior class conquered the demons of their first three seasons. In avenging previous home losses, Duke notched an unprecedented 17-0 record in Cameron. In front of a bloodthirsty crowd at Clemson, Duke defeated the Tigers, helping ease away the memories of last season’s 27 point debacle. They finally defeated (weak synonym for ‘ate alive’) UNC in Cameron. In preparation for the challenges of the March postseason, Duke won all their games at neutral sites. Consistent excellence in the ACC led to a share of the regular season title; performance under pressure won the Devils their second straight ACC Tournament.

Most importantly, the Blue Devils triumphed in the face of their previous postseason failures. In the NCAA tournament, Duke relieved the anxiety of its fans by winning the South regional and advancing to the program’s first Final Four in six years. But that wasn’t enough. Duke answered the call against West Virginia—a team that had looked infallible against Cal’s Kentuckians. After the media lambasted Duke as the weakest one-seed by far, we were the last 1 standing.

The final triumph was ironically the least vengeful. The David-Goliath matchup in the National Title game ended up being Goliath v. Goliath (or rather David v. David, as Jon Stewart believes.). In beating a fantastic Butler team like that, Duke broke the hearts of a stadium, a state and perhaps an entire nation of hoops fans dying for a reenactment of Hoosiers.

Duke met every obstacle this season—from the preseason NIT in NYC to the F4 in INDPLS (that’s what the kids call it). Although Coach will deflect any praise to his players, his leadership and post-Olympic energy boost were an integral part of Duke’s sensational run to the ‘ship.

In 2010, Duke earned its fourth banner. Coach K wants to share it with the entire Duke family:

“‘When you look up [in Cameron],” he said, “all of us would want you to say to yourself and to whomever you’re with: ‘That’s when my team — our team — won the national championship.'”

No matter what future race sees the plethora of banners hanging up by Cameron’s American flag, they will know who was responsible—the Pole from Chicago who changed basketball forever.